ALBRIGHT: Top 5 MOV sports moments of 2018

One of the best parts of covering high school sports in the Mid-Ohio Valley every season is the abundance of great athletic feats within the News and Sentinel’s coverage area.

An actual cornucopia of success annually spreads joy around the area from January to December because of the extraordinary abilities of student-athletes and coaches from our 24 schools.

State championships, new state records, one amazing run for a Doddridge County football player, the possible birth of two dynasties, a gone-viral trick play, a Big Red continuing his path to pro football as well as many others combined to make a difficult selection process for the Top 5 sports moments of the year.

But the show must go on and so I present my picks for the best of the best times in our small parts of West Virginia and Ohio in 2018.

Parkersburg South’s wrestling team shined consistently all season long on the path to winning a fourth state title in a row. A feat in turn jumping them ahead of rival PHS for the most in the Mountain State.

The list of post-season accomplishments boggles the mind.

Blue and white grapplers amassed the most points at the state tournament (288) since the 2005 team earned 277. Six wrestlers were crowned state champions, breaking the old school record of five from 2017 and 1997. Four-time state champion Josh Humphreys (49-2, 152 lbs.) earned the Robert R. Dutton Award as the best wrestler in the state with teammate Braxton Amos, 50-0 at 220 lbs., finishing right behind him.

The Patriots’ dominance began long before those three days in late February inside Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

Shaun Smith’s team won everything possible in Class AAA outside of the Mountain State Athletic Conference, mainly because they aren’t league members.

Records fell at the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championships where the they claimed the team title and seven Patriot finalists claimed five OVAC 5A individual titles. Beaver Local never stood a chance with just 240 earned points compared to the Patriots’ new best mark of 324.5.

They finished as the second best public school at the 2017 Walsh Jesuit Ironman Tournament, an event regularly featuring the top ranked schools (private and public) in the country, then as the top public school at the 2018 tournament.

And to top it all off, they ended last season nationally ranked. The acomplishment holds over to the beginning of this season and one surely strengthening after a seventh-place showing at the ’18 Ironman.

More state champions claim our No. 2 and No. 3 spots — one team and then four individuals.

Parkersburg High’s girls basketball team handled enormous expectations during head coach Scott Cozzen’s first year at the helm. They should have been called the PHS Atlases though. The Greek Titan’s weight of the world rested on the talented shoulders of sophomores and juniors all the way to a finals’ showdown with pre-season favorite Buckhannon-Upshur.

Shay-Lee Kirby’s closing-second free-throw conversions in the Class AAA state championship game brought home the seventh title to the program. While impressive in itself, Kirby and her teammates powered through an emotionally-draining and physically-demanding rivalry contest against South one evening prior to the “big game.”

Two performances making the Big Reds more lethal occurred in the early months of the 2018-19 campaign. The Big Reds have played like the best team in the state through its’ first six games having returned the Titan’s burden. Contests against Fairmont Senior (who trounced reigning state champion North Marion last week), Parkersburg South and GW all ended with Big Reds’ victories contributing to a 6-0 early record.

Very little slows them down other than themselves.

Slowing down proved a task desired by none of the three individuals on the way to a combined 9 state championships in the No. 3 spot. Domination best describes the performances of Parkersburg High swimmer Jaden Welsh, Doddridge County track athlete Jonna Ferrell and Parkersburg Catholic top-ranked tennis player Marie Discini.

Ferrell and Welsh each broke state records on their way to four crowns a piece.

Welsh announced herself as the next great Big Reds’ swimmer with two individual golds, including her record-setting 1:05.87 time in the 100 breaststroke, and two relay golds … as a freshman. Every event head coach Terry Nisewarner placed her in ended with either a school or state record broken during the February tournament in Morgantown.

Evidence of Ferrell’s four individual state championships (the only athlete in the state to accomplish the feat) built quickly throughout the season. The Bulldog sophomore never finished lower than third in the running of the 1, 2 or 400 meter dash or jumping of the long sort during any meet. Her full-time dedication to training for track and field in the offseason generated a noticeable difference.

Winning state championship times and her jump distance placed her among the top 3 of all the marks in all three classes of the state tournament. I recommended her for the McCoy Female Track Athlete of the Year because of these accomplishments.

Discini’s top-seeded championship match against Huntington St. Joe’s Audrey Heaberlin blazed by in a blur of just 35 minutes. The sophomore dropped the only game of her repeat state championship run in the second set. This one loss brought her total of games she was bested in throughout the campaign to a final total of 3.

Wheeling Park football defenders definitely wished they had 35 minutes to prepare for my No. 4 spot.

One of the best offensive games in the Mountain State came down to PHS pulling off a Boise State-type miracle trailing the Patriots by one, 51-50, with 51.5 seconds left in regulation.

PHS head coach Mike Byus went to his bag of tricks as Braeden Mason flipped a completed catch to teammate Dylan Shaver at the 35-yard line who then weaved his way straight through five defenders to score the game-winning touchdown with six seconds left.

The hook and ladder went viral eventually being shown on the NFL Network.

Shaver still has the video pinned to his Twitter account. Thankfully he does because I missed the second half of the game after shooting photos during the first half. The demands of a sports editor on a Football Friday necessitated the absence.

If you were live to see our No. 5 selection play or even if it was just on TV, Brenton Strange probably made one or more spectacular plays leaving you a little awed for the next few days.

My favorite play of his career, which I only saw in photography, is Strange elevating to snag a ball above the outstretched hands of Mason during a play against Marietta. The Big Red senior nearly jumped as high as his teammate was tall to make the catch.

The second play would be the screen pass Strange took 88 yards to the house against Huntington last season. He blew by all-state defensive back Jadon Hayes and went to the house.

These talents will be on display next season at Penn State as Strange became the first Big Red football player to sign a National Letter of Intent to an NCAA Division I school since offensive lineman Josh Jenkins.

Similar to Jenkins, Strange has the talent to excel at not only the collegiate level, but at the pro level as well.

Here is a list of other great occurrences as honorable mentions: Doddridge County running back Hunter America wins the Curt Warner Award after a break-out season where he helped the Bulldogs to the Class A state semifinals; Waterford girls’ basketball punches its ticket to a fourth-straight state tournament; all of the area’s college signees; Williamstown girls’ cross country claims its’ second straight state title; Parkersburg Catholic’s girls basketball goes undefeated in the regular season in dominant fashion in 2017-18; and Ravenswood boys’ basketball plays for a second straight state title.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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